University of Akron coach Jared Embick still believes his scoring-challenged men’s soccer team will have an offensive breakthrough.
But through 14 games, the Zips’ identity seems established.
They dominate possession, shots and corner kicks, but one goal a game is about all they can muster. On Wednesday night, even that was too much to ask.
After 110 minutes and two overtimes, the 18th-ranked Zips’ match against No. 17 Michigan State at FirstEnergy Stadium ended in a scoreless draw.
It was the fifth double-overtime match of the season for UA (10-3-1, 3-1 Mid-American Conference). All but two of the Zips’ games have been decided by one goal. Michigan State (8-2-3, 1-1-1 Big Ten) has scored 23 goals this season and had not been shut out previously.
“You’d like to think it’s going to change,” Embick said of UA’s failure to score. “Like we told the guys, ‘If it’s got to be one-goal wins, it’s going to be one-goal wins.’ We keep trying to push and beat teams 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-0 if we can. Until we do, maybe our confidence is lacking in front of goal. If you continue to have performances like that, you’re going to win games.”
UA had a 23-5 edge in shots, a 10-2 advantage in shots on goal and a 13-6 advantage in corner kicks. Michigan State goalie Zach Bennett had 10 saves, and UA’s Fernando Pina had two.
The Zips played without forward Reinaldo Brenes and midfielder Robbie Dershang, out with hamstring injuries.
As usual, the Zips had plenty of chances. In the second overtime, Adam Najem’s shot on goal in the 104th minute sailed over the net. Zac Portillos had a shot from the left side in the 106th minute dribble across the mouth of the goal, but no one could tap it in. Aodhan Quinn’s free kick in the 109th minute was headed out.
“We dominated a pretty good team,” Embick said. “We had a couple guys out, a couple new starters, we moved the ball well at times. Outside of a couple chances in the first half off restarts, we really shut ’em down. That’s a good sign moving forward. Ties sometimes feel like losses, but I think this is a positive for us.”
Defender Andrew Souders was trying to convince himself of that.
“Obviously you’re disappointed and frustrated, a 110-minute performance and we couldn’t get it done,” Souders said. “But everyone has those kind of games. Obviously you wish we’d do more, but it happens sometimes.”
A victory could have had major implications for the Zips’ postseason hopes because of Michigan State’s strength of schedule. MSU entered this week 12th in RPI, and UA was 33rd. Moving up would help the Zips’ chances of securing an at-large NCAA bid if they don’t win the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
“I think a draw will help in this case,” Embick said. “It’s not going to help as much as the win. Any time you play a quality opponent, even if you lose it will help you. You wanted another signature win; we didn’t get that. But we’ll have a couple more chances for that with Michigan and Penn State.”
But first, the Zips must win the MAC regular-season title so they can host the league tournament. Going into Wednesday’s action, they led with two league games remaining, at home against Northern Illinois on Saturday and at Western Michigan on Nov. 9.
Embick also saw positives defensively after the Zips posted their third shutout in a row, especially playing freshmen and sophomores on the back line.
“It just shows how good those players are and their concentration level,” Embick said. “They were tremendous and they’ve been tremendous. As you go on and you continue and you see that, the front guys are going to know we’re going to find the goal, we’ve got guys in the back who are going to keep the shutout.
“I still believe eventually we’re going to score multiple goals in a game. It’s got to happen. We’ve been playing too well at times and creating too many chances.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.